By Vatican News staff reporter
Due to the Coronavirus pandemic, German-speaking students who were supposed to be taking part in a theological study year at the Abbey of Dormition of the Blessed Virgin Mary, in Jerusalem, were unable to attend. So, instead of going to the Holy Land, thirty students were hosted by the Pontifical Athenaeum Sant'Anselmo in Rome.
This change of plan also meant that on Friday, they were able to meet the Pope in the Vatican.
Greeting the students, Pope Francis told them that this study year, or Theologisches Studienjahr, “is an opportunity for Catholic and Protestant theology students to learn about biblical sites and meet with the Eastern Churches, as well as the Jewish and Islamic worlds."
“Even if you cannot experience the Holy Land this year,” he continued, “ecumenism and interreligious dialogue will always remain a distinctive feature of your programme.”
The presence of God in society
The Pope stressed that as students of theology, they were witnesses for their peers and “for the men and women of today to the importance of God in their lives and to the fullness which a lived faith brings.”
He said, “It will be your task to enter into dialogue with a world where there seems to be less and less room for religion. It is a task that we share with all believers of different religions, knowing that making God present is good for our societies.”
Religions and fraternity
Quoting from his recent encyclical Fratelli tutti, Pope Francis underlined that, as believers, “we are convinced that religions make an important contribution to building fraternity and defending justice in society. On the other hand, we believe that when, for various reasons, people want to oust God from society, they end up worshipping idols, and man soon goes astray.”
The Pope expressed the hope that their theological study year would contribute to their “formative, spiritual and human journey.” Finally, looking ahead to Christmas, Pope Francis recalled that "in spirit we will all be pilgrims at the grotto of Bethlehem," exhorting them to be "witnesses of God-with-us".